Organ Donations Back Up After Plummeting During PandemicBy Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s promising news for organ transplant recipients and those on the waiting list.

A study is tracking a way to boost protection with COVID vaccines for transplant patients, and organ donations are making a comeback.

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Gillian Ladd received a new kidney and pancreas three years ago, so she’s been especially cautious during the pandemic.

“I’m already compromised and I’ve already been navigating the world in a much more cautious way,” she said.

Transplant patients take medications to suppress their immune systems to prevent rejection, which can impair their responses to vaccines.

Ladd got two doses of the COVID vaccine, then came disappointment.

“I had not mounted any measurable antibodies,” she said.

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She took part in a study at Johns Hopkins Medicine tracking 30 transplant patients receiving a third dose of the vaccine. The booster increased antibody levels at least somewhat in all patients.

“A glimmer of hope that we will be able to achieve an immune response in immunosuppressed people,” transplant surgeon Dr. Dorry Segev said.

COVID VACCINE

But life-saving transplants can’t happen without organ donations, which plummeted at the start of the pandemic.

Now, Dr. Amy Friedman, the chief medical officer for the organ procurement organization LiveOnNY, says donations are back up, partly for surprising reasons.

“We’ve become a lot smarter about COVID infection, coronavirus infection, and we also have many more complex tools that allow us to be smarter about which patients are actively infected, which patients may have recovered from an infection and therefore could be really safe as donors without transmitting the infection to the recipients,” Friedman told CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez.

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In fact, several studies have reported safely transplanting organs from donors with very early or very late stage COVID, again by taking certain precautions. Even so, we still need more people to sign up to become organ donors.

Dr. Max Gomez